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*****


Char was aptly named, as all of it was blackened and crumbling, the victim of some ancient conflagration. Quin and Eli took little time to examine their surroundings, disappearing around hollowed buildings and walls, seeking ground from which to retaliate against their mysterious attackers. "Watch the gate," Quin said, indicating her bow. "I'll look for better ground." Eli nodded and backed into the shadowed corner of what looked like an old tomb. She watched as Quin ran ahead, noticing his lithe and graceful movements. His surefooted stealth was a match for any hunter she'd known. She crouched and listened for movement in the direction of the rusted gate, her limited field of vision revealing little in the dim, dusky morning. The sight of Quin's eyes and the apparent ease with which he navigated the darkness remained fresh in her thoughts. Those eyes! By Savras, those eyes! He must be the man sought after by the patrol in Littlewater, but is he the man I seek? No sound had come from the gate as yet, and she determined to learn more about Quin if she survived the remainder of the morning. At first, she'd suspected that patrols from Littlewater had tracked her, hoping to discover this stranger she'd happened upon, but those chilling howls in the mist convinced her otherwise. Hunting dogs were uncommon in Savrathan towns, even one as cosmopolitan as Littlewater. Their bowmen would not have chosen to kill a fine horse, especially not the trained mount of a hunter. No, but those howls were familiar, she thought. Something of the Qurth prowls the Shandolphyn. Even as close as the Low Road was, it was rare for creatures to venture so far out of the forest. She had heard of such incidents in the south, near Owlhold and even in the west near Ondeeme, but here, the oracles and hunters kept the borders of the Qurth in tight check, anticipating the slightest dangers by favor of the sight of Savras. Which, she thought discouragingly, makes these recent times all the more strange. Her reflexes reacted to nearby movement, clenching the bow in her hand and darting her eyes forward.

She saw nothing-merely a small section of fallen wall before her and more of the same all around. As she studied the blackness, she squinted, certain that the wall in front of her had shifted somehow.

She had almost convinced herself she was imagining things when a low growl came from the same direction. The shadow erupted and flew at her, blazing yellow eyes and ivory fangs rushing toward her face, pulling a rippling mass of darkness behind it. Rolling backward in surprise, she raised her bow and aimed at the center of the nearly invisible mass. The arrow struck something solid, drawing a canine yelp. The weight of the beast landed on Eli before she could draw again. It was heavy on her chest, gurgling a low growl before falling still and shuddering a final breath. Rolling it away and jumping to her feet, she detected the black outline of a massive hound. She backed into the corner again, looking all around, certain that every shadow held similar danger. She wondered where Quin had gone and wished he'd bring his dark-seeing eyes back with him.



CHAPTER TWELVE | Bloodwalk | *****